After decades of living with this question, I have come to realize that there is no conflict between of being an observant Jew and being gay. The thrust of recent Jewish homophobia is more politically inspired than spiritually mandated. For centuries, Rabbis have been interpreting various parts of the Jewish Bible in the context of their times. All of the various capital punishments, such as violating the Sabbath, being a disobedient son, or lying with another male as a woman, have been made non-enforceable by the Rabbis since around the year 800. Just like civil law, the literal words of the Bible are not followed. So even ultra-Orthodox Jews are not really fundamentalists, because even they follow interpretations of their past sages and not the literal words of the Bible.
There are 613 laws in the Jewish Bible, and many deal with things permitted by the Bible, but outlawed by our civil government (slavery, polygamy, or killing the animal who was sexually abused by a man). In our lifetime, do you really want to go back to the practice of animal sacrifices? Then why has a single obscure law in Leviticus prohibiting male homosexual acts become such a rallying cry for the “right wing religious folk?” I think most average people can only cite 11 of the 613 laws; namely the 10 Commandments and then the “no male shall lie with another” line in Leviticus. I wonder, why the Orthodox Jews aren’t protesting against people who violate the kosher dietary laws or the failure to observe the Sabbath? It’s curious why they’ve funneled so much of their energy towards this single right wing cause with such a passion.
In a strange manner, I can understand how German Jews felt when they read all the anti-Jewish hatred in “Mein Kampf”. You just hope that no one will take the hateful parts seriously. I remained Jewish, even after I read the part of Leviticus that said that gay men should be killed. I developed a sense that one must read things in the entire context. But I do believe that most of the Bibles’ context is loving and teaches us respect for life, while most of Hitler’s writings do neither. However, both books literally spell out my death sentence, which frightened me as a child.
I wonder how the average German felt in 1945 after hearing for years that Jews were inferior, immoral, Biblical god murders, and a worthy of extermination? Don’t you think that a lot of Germans were scratching their heads after the war wondering why their government expended so much time and effort in killing Jews? I think that years from now many fundamentalist Muslims, Christians and Orthodox Jews will question why they focused so much hatred on their LGBT family members. Ultra Orthodox Jews will suffer the most guilt once they realize that after centuries of being persecuted, they switched black hats and became the persecutors.
So now having gotten that off my chest, I will explain why being gay is no more a problem to me than being a Jew. Although both represent a minority of this country’s population, and are thus “abnormal”, they are as natural to me as the color of my hair or eyes. Let’s begin by analyzing what is meant by the term “Chosen People”.
The term “Chosen People” usually refers to a specially loved or cared for group of people. Some think it implied a special bond between their God, granting them special obligations and intimacy. But I see them as a group of people who actively made themselves known by being different from the majority. If everyone thinks the same and acts the same, then there is no way of questioning any beliefs. But if someone is different then one can question if the majority’s ways are the best. Chosen People are mirrors for the majority to see themselves if they want. Jews have always been a sore thumb in the eyes of Christians and Muslims for not accepting their God. It must be very threatening to hear that Jesus may merely have been a great wise, progressive, non-fundamentalist, Jewish human Rabbi; with loving and inclusive viewpoints.
Even though Hindus, Buddhists don’t worship Jesus as a God; this doesn’t seem to bother Americans or Europeans so much because they didn’t come in close contact with these groups. But Jews and gays have always lived within their midst. We were the mirror to pose the fact that an alternative religion or sexual orientation may have credibility equal to theirs.
For some it is not enough to have a true belief, but it is important to make sure that their children remain in isolation without the possibility that they may see things differently. Living in a cocoon, void of distractions, is very assuring that your views are correct. In America we used to have a separation of Church and State strictly interpreted by the Supreme Court. But now some groups feel that they can use the government to force everyone to accept their religious interpretations of birth control and marriage laws, etc. Personal choice is no longer an option to be protected. So if my Rabbi wants to conduct a Jewish wedding ceremony for me and my future husband, they want to make sure that the government will not sanction it, because they want the secular government to adhere to their interpretation of the Bible. That used to be considered “Un-American”.
Like the Jews, the LGBT community also serves as a “Chosen People” and throughout history has been hated and persecuted. They represented a minority living with the midst of t6he majority who had a different knowledge base and different beliefs. Most openly gay or lesbian people knew from an early age that they were not heterosexual, and that it was not a choice. If sexual orientation was as easy to change as say one’s religion, then what child would choose to face world condemnation and parental disappointment? But just as I knew as a little Jewish boy that Santa Claus was a myth, I knew in my heart the fallacy of believing that everyone was born heterosexual. If God is perfect and we are created in God’s image, then maybe it was part of God’s master plan to naturally create a minority of God’s creations to be gay or lesbian or bisexual. Why should we be fighting God’s master plan? LGBT people exist in every society, even in the most conservative families; just ask Mr. Cheney or Mrs. Schafly. Same sex couples exist even in the animal kingdom. Gays are every bit as moral, healthy and loving as heterosexual people, and do not deserve all this grief from others who claim to be religious.
Can you imagine if “Fiddler on the Roof” had a sequel telling the story of what happened to Tevya’s family after they reached America and he youngest daughter Bielka fell in love with another woman? After another dream from Fruma Sarah I think he would also have to get used to the fact of having a new daughter-in-law. The concept of marriage has been changing for centuries. Thank God. And the Biblical forms of marriage are illegal in most countries, due to the taboo on polygamy.
Ironically, the Pope calls gays and lesbians abnormal or unnatural and a threat to society’s existence for coupling with people of their own sex, but what could be more unnatural than celibacy? No where in the natural animal kingdom does celibacy exist as the norm. But there has always been a minority of people who are attracted to people of their own sex. It is only natural and normal for this minority to exist. In today’s world of same-sex marriages, more and more gays and lesbians are raising children and forming “traditional” families. This is something that the Pope and his priests are not doing. Now who is really living out God’s master plan? Then they will say that celibacy is a higher way of living and that humans are not animals; so who cares when you find gay penguins? This is a self fulfilling tautological way of thinking. They condemn same-sex behavior as being uncivilized and animalistic, but then discount that animals do it too. I view gender/sexuality to be more like a gray scale from white to black. Would you consider the middle gray to be abnormal or just part of the whole continuum of shades?
As a childless man, I hope that my life and this book will make it easier for future childless generations to have a richer and fuller life. Somehow when famous people don’t father children, such as George Washington or Rabbi Schneerson, no one complains. But if others choose not to have children, they are ending society. It is good to see that today’s generation of LGBT children can grow up with the choice of having children. My generation didn’t really have the choice of an openly gay couple raising children.
The way I see it, I was doubly blessed by being “chosen” twice, and my insights therefore can be a mirror to not only Christian, Muslim and Jewish fundamentalists, but to homophobes as well. I only pray to God that these other groups take this ability to examine their views peacefully and will not resort to their usual violent tendencies. Remember when the expression, “Live and let Live” was used for people of different religions and people kept their religious views as personal beliefs and didn’t try to use the government or violence (lately entitled terrorism) to force others to pick up their beliefs. It is just as upsetting for me to see Jews doing this as it is with Muslims or Christians.
But who is God and what do I believe in as a gay Jewish son of Holocaust Survivors? I believe that there is a power or entity that is greater than what I can perceive. But I do not think that this divinity having male or female genitalia. I don’t see God as this old white man with a beard sitting in heaven looking down at us with his biological son. I believe that since all people are created in God’s image, then God clearly is not just male. That is why I don’t consider God to be my father or mother or Lord, or anything that portrays the notion of an old white person. To me God is beyond my understanding, and I just try to feel one with what I consider goodness in this world.
In a way, people can show more respect to the actual words attributed to Jesus, if they follow them for their merits, rather than for fear of upsetting a divinity. You do not have to believe that someone was a virgin, or of virgin birth, or resurrected, to believe in the Golden Rule - “Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.” Matthew 7.12
Follow these words are easy for Jews, since they are also in their Bible if one needs to give a divinity credit. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” is in Leviticus 19.18. But I can also follow the same advice when a mere mortal named Hillel repeated the same theme when he said, “That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow.” Every day I follow hundreds of civil laws made by mere mortals, without the fear of upsetting a divinity; just because they make sense.
To Jews, turning the image of a man named Jesus into something sacred, is forbidden by the Ten Commandments, which says “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall not make for yourself any carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.”. Maybe that is where the belief that Jesus had to become a divinity arose? The Midrash tells us how Abraham smashed the statues of the current Gods and told his father that one of the other statues did it. But now statues and places have become so sacred to the point of being routinely worshiped. Religions and religious practices have changed so dramatically over the millennia with so-called “divine inspiration or new prophets”. So I am guessing that one day the taboos and discrimination against God’s LGBT children will also go the way of witch hunts, especially in our American secular civil laws.
Not everyone believes that the Bible was divinely memorized or published or translated as the true word of God. All the various versions of the Bible, and the various translations, were written down by mere mortals, and then through political means, parts of the various writings were canonized or selected to be considered sacred. But since I cannot remember the punch line of a joke from one day to the next, I find it hard to believe that people exactly memorized hundreds of pages of text for generations until they could even be written down in words. I do believe in the loving and insightful text of the Bible for what it can teach us about living in peace and harmony with each other, including the LGBT community. The same fundamentalists or literalists who condemn Reform or progressive movements for “cherry picking” parts of the Bible do the same thing, but they declare that only religious leaders that think in their way can make the interpretations or selections. I know that Christians have a revised view of the Jewish Bible. But where did he specifically preach about the evils of same sex couples raising children; where does he even mention lesbianism at all? The men who wrote down these religious texts didn’t focus that much on women in general in the Bibles.
In other times, remember Biblical text was used to justify slavery, polygamy, anti-feminism, and anti-Semitism, in addition to homophobia. The Bible has been used to rationalize wars, subjugate people and generally make life hell on earth for others. Not surprisingly, the suffering usually occurred when the religious zealots were in power. Just look at the writings of American’s founders. It is time for the non-fundamentalists to recapture religion as a force for love, equality and peace.
Today, the Religious Right seems more concerned for those who are not yet born or who are brain dead, than for the living. This has become the new political litmus test for conservative approval. Instead of cherishing and respecting living people and trying to make a world that can accommodate everyone with a decent standard of living and protecting the earth so that it can support us; they focus their efforts on preventing the use of contraceptive devices and incarcerating doctors who perform abortions. I know about the Biblical commandment of “Go ye forth and multiply”, but maybe it was meant to be adjusted after a few thousand years. You can multiply by fractions. These forces seem to favor the overpopulation of the planet, which will create more hunger and poverty on a scale never imagined. Maybe they want the world to end so that they show their God how bad a job they did as caretakers of this planet and the population? I would prefer to improve everyone’s living conditions and if a deity ever comes (or returns) to show what a great job we did in respecting the creation.
Maybe this is why God created gays and lesbians? Although more and more LGBT couples are raising children, it is still at a much lower rate than heterosexual couples and accidental pregnancies are unheard of in the gay and lesbian community.
I think that there is a place for childless couples or non-children bearing people in this world. For role models I think of Einstein, George Washington, (the father of our country and step children, but not his own), most Catholic Popes, Rebbi Schneerson, or even Jesus (if you believe that he was childless). People can support the future of humankind by other ways than just making children.
So I am proud that God made me gay, which has enabled me to live an interesting life and acquire insights outside of the norm. I knew that homophobia was wrong from the time I was 6 years old much like some Germans must have felt it was wrong to persecute the Jews from the onset of the Nazi era. I use the eyes, ears, heart and brain that God gave me to see that people are clearly misusing the Bible and religion to create new forms of scapegoats for their own political power. And I believe that sane people must speak out to show that there is more to religion than discriminating against the LGBT community.
It is hard for men to give up the power that they have achieved in society and our male dominated families. It is also much harder to think for yourself instead of following the words of others. Why let someone else in authority or someone divine decide for you what is right? Didn’t the Nuremberg Trials teach us to think morally for ourselves? Ironically, Jesus was a rather left wing radical thinker who opposed many of the practices and beliefs of the traditional and fundamentalist leaders of his time. And now the interpretations and so-called divine revelations of the men after him created a new fundamentalism. If Jesus saw the way right wing zealots today treated strangers, immigrants and people with AIDS, he would be appalled; so much for a WWJT- (What would Jesus think).
Jesus preached the lessons of the Jewish Bible while ignoring the parts he considered irrelevant. He never once mentioned gay prohibitions when giving his sermon on the mount. Today this liberal spirit pervades German and American Reform Judaism, and other progressive religions such as the Episcopalians. Judaism is no longer a religion where people go to a sacred space to worship in a Temple three times a year through the use of animal sacrifices. It went into a new direction about 40 years after Jesus’ death when the Temple was destroyed. If the Holy Temple in Jerusalem is ever restored, I hope we will not go back to Biblical animal sacrifices but will continue on the journey of modern Judaism and how it can be relevant to making peace and love in our times.
Jewish rabbinical tradition states that in each generation the learned Rabbis of that age will interpret the Bible. Of course in the past, this meant that the sides of the interpretations were done by old Orthodox men, but in today’s world this means that male and female Rabbis of various movements can also interpret the Bible. I feel very comfortable with that approach to my religion. Of course it is threatening to the Orthodox male Rabbis who have a lock on the Jewish canon for ages, but this is not the first time that such conflicts surfaced. Throughout the last 2,000 years, various forms of Judaism appeared and were attacked by the Orthodox only to be accepted later on. So I agree with the interpretations of today’s Reform sages. The concept is not so revolutionary.
One reason that the Biblical translations were so abstruse, or written in Old English, was to make the meanings more cryptic and confusing; therefore enabling a select few to interpret the Bible for the masses. As a lawyer I know what it is like to prepare documents that no one can understand. But in law we consider that poor crafting, in religion it mandates the need for interpreters.
The Bible’s many contradictions and interpretations have also fostered this. The Bible may say “Thou shall not kill” in the 10 Commandments, but then count up how many other times killing people is mentioned. For example, consider how “an eye for an eye” has now been replaced by some interpreters with monetary restitution. Most no longer believe that we should poke out someone eye’s if they poked out yours. Instead you should get your medical bills paid. Remember all of the Biblical forefathers had several wives and other kinds of recognized relationships in addition to their married wives, but today we only recognize different sex coupling. Religions change over time.
But what does the Jewish Bible actually say about being gay or gay relationships? To answer this question, I would like to relate what I gleaned from an adult education course that I took at CBST’s Lehrhaus taught by Rabbi Roderick Young on King David and his “friend” Jonathan. For not only do I believe that fundamentalists are incorrectly interpreting the meaning of parts of Leviticus and Genesis, but that they are ignoring the pro-gay parts of the Jewish Bible. I am sure someone who studied other Bibles can also find areas dealing with loving your neighbor and not throwing stones at them.
Rabbi Young’s personal experience was an interesting study in itself. Although he was legally permitted to marry any heterosexual couple in America, he and his American partner could not legally marry because the rabbi’s visa had expired. Thus Rabbi Young and his partner had to leave America and live in the U.K. in order to have their union sanctioned and so that they could live together. So much for those who say that they put the “focus on the family”.
We studied numerous passages from the Jewish and Christian Bible in the rabbi’s class that expounded on the relationship between David and Jonathan. To me the Biblical encounters seemed more than just a mere friendship between two straight boys. We compared various translations from various Bibles (Christian and Jewish) and then to the Hebrew text dealing with passages about the lives of David and Jonathan. There were so many ambiguous lines concerning their relationship that the Christian Bible even added a few extra passages thousands of years (through so-called divine inspiration) reinforcing that David and Jonathan were just heterosexual friends. I think it was around the time of St. Bartholomew that these extra “straightification” passages came into being.
My favorite study was of the sentence which is translated in The Holy Scriptures – Copyright 1917, by the Jewish Publication Society of America as: [20:41] “And as soon as the lad was one, David arose out of a place toward the South, and fell on his fact to the ground, and bowed down three times; and they kissed on another, and wept one with another, until David exceeded.”
The same Bible, but with a 1978 copyright states:
[20:41} “When the boy got there, David emerged from his concealment at the Negeb. He flung himself face down on the ground and bowed low three times. They kissed each other and wept together; David wept the longer.”
But when we read the original Hebrew version, the last two words of the sentence were “David Hegdeel”. The shorash or root of the word is GDL or same as the word large or big. This is the future perfect tense of big, or he became big or enlarged. To me the interpretation was quite clear. If I was a young man with the kind of tumultuous relationship with a hot ruddy charismatic character whose love was more to me than that of a woman, I would also weep and kiss and become larger. It is ironic that the rest of the chapter mentions uncircumcised Philistines and foreskins several times, so why should it be so inconceivable that David had an erection?
If you don’t believe me look at this verse and at II Samuel 1:26 in various Bibles and see how many are translated into different meanings. So when the literalists say that their Bible is the exact word of God, ask them by whose translation and in which language?
Finally, I don’t think that we can leave a discussion of gayness and the Bible without mentioning the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. They even named oral and anal sex (both for heterosexuals and homosexuals) after one of these cities.
When I read the story I read how we must be kind to strangers and the immigrant. But others interpret the words “to know” to mean having anal sex. Since they claim to be the only authority to make such interpretations, no one could question it in this case. But the homosexual rape story becomes muddled when Lot offers to send out his two daughters to appease those horny homosexual men who were looking to rape the male angels. First, I don’t think raping a young woman would appease most gay men, and it also doesn’t put Lot in a good light. Today this practice might not be considered proper for a righteous man, but instead may be seen as child abuse. To me the story is just another reference in the Bible to being kind to the strangers in our midst and nothing to do with creative sexual practices.
I am proud to be a Jew and to be included in the long historical line of my ancestors. We have withstood the hatred and slaughter of many countries and most of us have learned how to be a proud minority without having to force our views on others. I will defend even the most fundamentalist to find and love their God in their own way, as long as it doesn’t infringe on other’s rights to do the same. So if this means that we keep specific religious icons out of the public square; so be it. That is the easiest way to keep the government from imposing some people’s views on others, which is what I belief the founders of this country meant to do. We all have the private sector and public media to expose everyone to all sorts of beliefs, without the government getting involved. The American Government should be there to ensure that one group isn’t forcing its ways on another.
America was never officially a “Christian country”, but merely a country where the majority of its inhabitants are Christian. There were non-Christians living on this land before Columbus came, and ever since. The notion of diversity and inclusiveness started all the way back in New Amsterdam when religious freedoms were fought for and won. Look at the Flushing Remonstrance for the Quakers and the Dutch permission for the Jews to remain as proof of that. Now we need to expand diversity to fight the imposition of heterosexuality on those who are not straight, and return to “live and let live”.
So in my eyes there is nothing incompatible with being Jewish and gay, or with having a gay partner or with making love to that partner. I agree that gays and Jews are in the minority, and that it is normal by my definition for a majority to have a minority faction living within it. Minority doesn’t mean immoral, or bad or wrong. The whole world was wrong when it came to the mal-treatment of the Jews, and it will once again be shown wrong when it comes to the mal-treatment of LGBT people. In conclusion, I am proud that God created me with a gay orientation and that my family passed on my Jewish beliefs to me.
Copyright 2007. Do not publish without written permission from the author.